Portrush is built on a peninsula with exceptional views to Donegal, Dunluce Castle and the Giant's Causeway, it has two exceptional main beaches and excellent coastal walks. In the town you will find all the facilities you would need for a family vacation or a base to explore from along with a selection of indoor venues including Water World, the Coastal Zone, and the famous Barry's Amusements. A 3 km stroll along Curran Strand (East Strand) will bring you to the spectacular White Rocks where you can continue by footpath to Dunluce Castle, the beach is a fabulous spacious walk. An ancient sand dune system separates the beach from Royal Portrush Golf Course, midway along the beach lies a deep hollow between the dunes and the golf course with a Norwegian link. It was here in 1103, that Magnus Barefoot, the King of Norway is believed to have been killed during a battle with Irish clans. The stretch of water between Curran Strand and the Skerries, a ring of small uninhabited islands, is known as the Skerry Roads and for centuries it has offered sheltered anchorage to shipping.
The town is recorded as being granted to Richard de Burgo in 1305 and derives its name from Portros, Portross or Portrossce, the meaning relates to its location, Port of the Promontory. The area is known to have been the site of human settlement for over 1500 years. Shortly after the last ice age some ten thousand years ago, the promontory was an island surrounded by marsh and bog land, peat deposits are sometimes exposed on Mill Strand (West Strand). During construction work evidence of early settlements were uncovered near Curran Strand (East Strand) car park and Causeway Street. The town later had a church and castle of strategic importance, nothing remains of either, they were both ransacked and partly destroyed by General Munro during the 1641- 49 conflict in Ireland. I
The large harbour was once home port for the lifeboat 'Katie Hannan' which was wrecked on Rathin Island in January 2008 during an attempted rescue from rocks. She had arrived in Portrush in September of 2000 and was named after the late Mrs. Katrina Hannan of London who bequeathed a share of her estate to the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. This 'Severn' class lifeboat was the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, with a range of 250 nautical miles and a speed of 25 knots she was well able to cover the often rough waters of the north channel and western approaches. Today another Severn class boat the ' William Gordon Burr' continues to carry out the much needed service. The lifeboat station was founded in 1860 and to date has saved over three hundred lives and received eight silver and one bronze medals for bravery. The original harbour nestles behind the shelter of Ramore headland and is still used today for berthing small tenders and open rowing boats.
Like most small coastal towns and villages Portrush developed and expanded from a safe harbour and fishing port. It remained like this until the early 19th century when in parallel to the industrial revolution its full potential as a port was realized. Portrush then became a major shipping and commercial focus along the north coast. One hundred years ago you would have seen coastal schooners, square riggers, steam ships and fishing smacks plying in and out of the harbour. Timber came from America, potatoes went to Glasgow, grain went to Cork, fish came in and went to Belfast, coal, bauxite and other raw materials all came and went from the busy quayside. Today the harbour can still service ocean going yachts and small cruise vessels.
The harbour was used by fishermen from near and far to land their catches or shelter from storms, it is known that Breton and Spanish fishermen were frequent visitors who came here seasonally to catch dogfish and rays. Another factor which enhanced the fortunes of Portrush was its close proximity to the Giant's Causeway.
The expanding rail network reached here in 1855 when the Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Portrush Junction Railway Company built a railway line and terminus. Then came a period of prosperity which saw the town become a major destination for holidaymakers from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. The Belfast & Northern Counties Railway Company came into being in 1860 and acquired the Northern Counties Hotel in 1881. Leading the developments was Berkeley Deane Wise the chief engineer for the company. Although the history of the hotel goes back to 1837 its name was derived from the railway company. The town thrived in a new era of tourism which evolved around the railway network, much of the wonderful architecture you can see today comes from that period.
You can still see and feel a sense of the splendour and affluence of that time in the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian terraces, the fine examples of 'Art Nouveau' and the still operational White House department store. Some of the larger hotels have gone but others have taken on new roles in the townscape. The centre piece of the town up until the early 1990's was the famous Northern Counties Hotel which had all the splendour of the Victorian era with seaweed baths, exquisite tiled toilets, a ballroom, tapestries, oak lined reception rooms, grand stairways, chandeliers and sculptures. Unfortunately its uniqueness and architectural heritage was taken from Portrush by a malicious fire which destroyed it completely. After being sold by the family who had run it for decades, the hotel was closed down and within one year two separate arson attacks happened, the second resulted in its complete destruction, rumours abounded locally about the reasons for its destruction. Today the Ramada Hotel occupies the site. Proposals where made in the 1880s to link Portush and Ballycastle by a railway, surveys and costing were done but the proposal could not secure the financial backing needed. In 1883 the Giant's Causeway, Portrush and Bush Valley Tramway Company opened the world's first narrow gauge hydro electric powered tramway between Portrush and Bushmills with a later extension to the Giant's Causeway.
Pioneered by William and Anthony Traill of Ballyclough the tram used the Seimens electric railway system and derived its power from water turbines at the Walkmill Falls in Bushmills. From 1883 until its closure in 1949 visitors were able to arrive in Portrush by train or ship and journey by tram to the Giant's Causeway along one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline in Ulster. The line from the Giant's Causeway to Bushmills re-opened in 2001 using a Peckett and a Barclay steam locomotive and a Simplex Diesel locomotive.
The Town Hall which has undergone major renovations was built in 1872 and provides a fitting architectural focal point to the town, in front is the fabulous memorial sculpture by the artist Frank Ransom who had worked with the sculptor Sir George Frampton. The sculpture was completed in 1922 and is a wonderful piece of 'classic' artwork. During the 18th century a famous geological feature at Landsdowne Crescent known as the Portrush Sill became the centre for debate between the Neptunists and the Plutonists. The Neptunists believed that basalt crystalised from seawater while the Plutonists believed it to be volcanic activity. The argument was settled here by the presence of ammonite fossils in mudstone which were baked by the overlying sill. You can walk over the rock and still see the fabulous patterns of ammonites in the mudstone and the layer of magma which covered and intruded into it. This was formed at the same time as the Giant’s Causeway some 60 million years ago. On the outskirts of the town you will find the ruin and graveyard of Ballywillan Old Church.